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Ambridge Extra, by the writer of the first episode

Tim Stimpson Tim Stimpson | 11:34 AM, Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Archers and Ambridge Extra writer Tim Stimpson

It's now almost nine weeks since we sat down with all but a blank sheet of paper and began planning the first series of Ambridge Extra. The opening episode has now been broadcast, another seven have been recorded, a further eight have been written and we've just finished storylining the final ten, including the season finale. It's certainly been a busy couple of months.

When we set out, one of the first things we decided was that we wanted the new show to feel like a treat. It should be a little extra gift to our regular Archers listeners, crafted with affection and giving them a new perspective on life in Ambridge. At the same time it also needed to be an entertaining and accessible introduction for those who had never listened to The Archers before.

An even more difficult balance to strike was that although Ambridge Extra needed to be different, it also had to retain enough DNA from the original show to still be recognizably Ambridge. With only two episodes a week, the show would cover ground faster and concentrate on fewer stories and characters. In addition, we've embellished this with sharper editing and more muscular sound effects.

However, one of the essential elements of The Archers is the sense that we are eavesdropping, so any notions of musical interludes, flashbacks or voiceovers were quickly dispensed with.

We also knew that although Ambridge Extra would actually travel further afield it must stay rooted in the countryside. So although much of this series takes place in Borchester, Southampton and even Las Vegas, its heart is still very much amongst the Hassett Hills and the fields of Borsetshire.

A finite series

The other definitive feature of Ambridge Extra is that it's a series with a finite length. This has allowed us to create a 'story of the season' that we'll follow from beginning to end. Choosing what this story should be, however, depended on the main show. We knew that we could only manage one plot that dovetailed tightly with current stories in The Archers and for this we'd already chosen Jamie. The story of the season needed to involve characters that we weren't seeing much of. Chris, Alice and her final few months as an undergraduate seemed like perfect candidates.

Among this we would then sprinkle shorter, lighter storylines that would carry the humour and charm so essential to Ambridge.

That's not to say that we'll return to these characters in the second series. Writing for The Archers is like climbing aboard a train that never stops. Writing Ambridge Extra has been more like running alongside trying to keep up! Controlling the continuity between the two programmes, while making them work as stand-alone stories, has been one of the biggest challenges.

So while you're starting to listen to the first series of Ambridge Extra, we're already thinking ahead to the second - and this will largely depend on where the train has taken us by the autumn.

But where would you like to go next time?

Tim speaks to Ben Motley about the programme:

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Tim Stimpson is an Archers and Ambridge Extra scriptwriter


  • Comment number 1.

    Well done Chap a decent effort, looking forward to more

  • Comment number 2.

    It's a shame that your gift to Archers listeners took the form of two such negative stories. More misery!

    I had not previously picked up that it was a finite 26 episode series. Perhaps you can be jollier and more positive next time.

    Most ot the 'humour' in The Archers is clumsy and not at all charming. The less signalled and obvious humour, like Brian having to babysit, is better.

  • Comment number 3.

    Just listened to the first episode.... sorry, but it was awful! Sounded like an episode written by schoolkids - good by their standards but not by BBC standards.

    As a long time listener to The Archers I was hoping for an expansion of the storyline but in similar format. Not so. In fact it was so bad I couldn't bear to listen to the end - I turned off with a few minutes to go.

    Not sure if I can bring myself to try the second episode....

  • Comment number 4.

    Tim ... I was (non attributedly) quoted in the Express yesterday as expressing my doubts that Ambridge Lite could stand completely alone without affecting the way we listen to the characters in Ambridge Heavy.

    Would you agree that it will now be impossible to listen to Jamie operating in the main programme without realising a) the peer pressure from Marty which includes incitement to criminal activity and b) his manipulation of Kenton, Jolene and Kathy?

  • Comment number 5.

    I hope Tim doesn't mind me popping in to answer that (it's Keri here).

    It should be impossible, yes, and that's an example of the way in which listening to both programmes will give you an enhanced experience.

    But if you just listened to The Archers, you would see it more from the perspective of the adults, which would be just as valid a listening experience. And we will make sure that anything The Archers listener needs to know will also be included in the main programme.

    And if you just listened to Ambridge Extra, you'd be less concerned with the role of the adults in Jamie's life - which is also a valid listening experience.

    This story has been conceived to work across both programmes in just this way.

  • Comment number 6.

    The theme music sounded distinctly Scottish, yes the Barwick Green tune was there but it didn't work.

    The storyline however did open up the possibilty of Alice's marriage starting to go wrong, at least that will please her mother. It also showed that Jamie has more problems that may well end in disaster.

  • Comment number 7.

    Hi again Dusty

    In addition to Keri's answer, Tim's added the following comment to your post:

    "Yes, of course there will be interaction between the two shows and we hope that this will be part of the appeal. However, what we have tried to do is create two narratives that can stand alone and are satisfying in their own right. Obviously, if you listen to both programmes (which we hope you will) you'll get a broader picture, but it's not necessary. You'll certainly still be hearing from Jamie in The Archers."


  • Comment number 8.

    Just managed to LA and I have to say I enjoyed it. Pacy and well written. Will definitely listen to the rest of this series, and it will be interesting to see whether it has any impact on how I 'hear' TA proper. Good stuff so far.

  • Comment number 9.

    Aaargh, more of the whiney Jamie story! Anyone with teens of their own will have had more than enough of kids feeling hard done by and those without kids avoid this stuff like the plague. Not sure who this is aimed at, Bellowhead-style theme music and storylines involving Alice and the odious Jamie suggests this is for younger listeners,in which case I shall more than happily give it a miss. In the meantime, I suggest Kathy moves away while the going is good and find a happy new life while her dreary offspring is off, especially while there is the suspicion that Jamie's wild patch will be disappear as easily as Pip Archer's when it suits.

  • Comment number 10.

    Yes, I agree with erms above.

    But I do think TA listeners will have to be made aware of the peer pressure on Jamie to start pinching Vodka though, for example.

    I like the idea of hearing the same SL from two different perspectives, the kids and the oldies, but it's not fair if TA-only listeners haven't Marty pressuring him.

  • Comment number 11.

    Thanks Keri, Tayler and Tim ... appreciate the answers. Not totally convinced and I do agree with Shropshire Lad.

    Anyhow I'll stick with it for now and hope it grows on me.


  • Comment number 12.

    I'll always prefer The Archers but I thought the first episode was a decent start. I'll certainly tune in for the next episode on Thursday.

    I enjoyed the remixed theme song. A nice little tune, it was. But what I really enjoyed most about this episode was Kenton's appearance. If you could continue to have Archer characters pop up in this new series (Kathy and Jolene totally need to make an appearance), I'd be a happy camper.

    Also, IMO, Jamie is far less sympathetic in this new series. In The Archers, I thought he was horrible to Kathy but I could at least sympathize with him for his troubles. In Ambridge Extra, he mentioned having Jolene wrapped around his finger and was planning to steal from The Bull. Sorry but Jamie lost any sympathy I had for him.

  • Comment number 13.

    I am confused by concerns that this was somehow a new side to Jamie, we have seen it before with regards to the fire at the hide and the weeks of agony that came after that. The first episode didn't pull me in tight, but they certainly have upheld the promises with regards to how it intersects the main show - perhaps to the determent of the new one. We'll see in a couple weeks - I expect this episode had to do a lot of introductions and name dropping in case any new listeners start with just this.

  • Comment number 14.

    Thorne - its those feelings (which I share) which I think are the key to the problem I see with it. I will now listen to Ambridge Heavy with all those thoughts, having heard what we heard on Ambridge Lite. Anyone not having heard Ambridge Lite will be hearing a very slightly different Jamie - it just cannot stand alone. There is a qualitative difference to the Jamies in the two programmes and this will dent the integrity of one or the other in the perceptions of the listeners.

  • Comment number 15.

    Somewhere in the original blurb for Ambridge Lite it was stated that it wouldn't effect our enjoyment (if you can call it that these days) of the main programme.

    Well for me it already has. Alice was one of my favourite characters. Now, having heard her on TAX, I have gone right off her. I had high hopes that her marriage would work and she would be one of the few young people in the programme to be cast as a well rounded character. Of course I did not expect her to be sitting in her room pining for Chris, but I would have rather not heard about it. Why portray young people at uni in such a stereotypical way? I didn't find it original at all.

    I loved the signature tune and for a fleeting moment thought I might actually enjoy what was to follow. Sorry to say it didn't do it for me this time round. I will try a few more episodes, but to be honest I would rather you take on board the many criticisms of the main programme and try and do something about that.

  • Comment number 16.

    I'm afraid the BBC has totally lost the plot.

    It would be much better to get the 'real' Archers right, rather than trying some half-baked spin-off in an attempt to attract 'yoof' listeners.

    Get rid of VW and bring back Nigel.

  • Comment number 17.

    Mrs B-o-B writes business books and she is taking the whole Archers decline and fall as a case study. Complacent, stillted and arrogant management who have become so far out of touch with their customers (sic) they have destroyed a valuable brand.

    The AMX extension makes the whole thing smack of desperation. Not understanding the core values of the original, and having broken it they do not wish, or even, know how to fix it.

    Perrier with added benzene is a good example. As is nuclear power following the Japanese disaster and the cack-handed way Tokyo Power have dealt with it.

    So sad

  • Comment number 18.

    Very very very disappointed in first episode, I'm afraid. It comprised, frankly, the bleedin' obvious. Students get drunk and - if female - squeal (actually a lot of them do neither...) Young lads go off the rails (again, a lot of them don't). BORING!!! I doubt I'll bother to listen to another.

  • Comment number 19.

    I have listened to just about every episode of The Archers over the last 28 years but I have no intention of listening to Ambridge Extra..... ever!

    This is merely a ploy to get people to buy DAB radios and listen to Radio4 Extra/Radio 7. I will NOT be forced into replacing the 9 FM radios + 9 car radios in our household.

    If the BBC wants to introduce a new soap opera why not come up with something original rather than a sequal.

    It's PATHETIC; and that's coming from a loyal archers listener.

  • Comment number 20.

    peacemaker - Kirsty Miller seemed well-rounded to me. I have to say that she's my only favorite character in the new program so far.

  • Comment number 21.

    This may seem like the pot calling the kettle black, but it sounds like a cynical exercise by the producers, if not the writer. So much radio drama has been cut, The Archers itself has been mishandled for months, and there's really space for this?

  • Comment number 22.

    Personally, I think The Archers has been just fine. I've been enjoying it a lot.

  • Comment number 23.

    I agree with Vicky - the Archers is SO miserable these days, particularly since the unnecessary death of poor old Nigel. Can't we have some jolly, new relationships to cheer us up. I've got to the stage where I don't bother to catch up if I miss an episode.

  • Comment number 24.

    The Archers has had it's positives/funny moments - The Grundys trying to avoid lent, Emma giving birth, Jim pulling that prank on Linda last Friday, Eddie's birthday, etc.

  • Comment number 25.

    "Bring back Nigel"
    Oh please! And this from people that complain about unbelievable storylines!
    I listened and liked it.
    The fact that it's got the usual suspects on the messageboard posters up in arms is neither here nor there; some people just seem to relish something new to moan about and criticise after months of calling the Archers every epithet under the sun.
    In fact, the reaction from the messageboard might even suggest that the production team is doing something right! ;-)

  • Comment number 26.

    I just find the whole concept a bit odd. I don't have the time or inclination to listen to AmEx and wish they would put the extra effort into the main programme. However I can't help reading on the boards that AmEx listeners get to see another side of Jamie and find that quite strange. If there is a denouement in the main programme, will half the listeners be taken by surprise whilst others nod sagely saying "I saw that coming"? It seems a funny way to develop story lines.

  • Comment number 27.

    Where would I like you to go next time? Please don't bother.

  • Comment number 28.

    I listen to Radio 7, or whatever you call it now, by satellite but even if I didn't this cynical attempt to make me want to buy a DAB radio would fail miserably.

  • Comment number 29.

    @Brian-of-Britain -

    "Complacent, stillted and arrogant management who have become so far out of touch with their customers (sic) they have destroyed a valuable brand.

    The AMX extension makes the whole thing smack of desperation. Not understanding the core values of the original, and having broken it they do not wish, or even, know how to fix it."

    Spot-on assessment. Says it all, really.

  • Comment number 30.

    I realize you wanted a variation of the standard Archer jingle , but couldn't you come up with something better than that jangle ?

  • Comment number 31.

    What I find difficult to understand, is how new listeners will be able to understand why scenes in Southampton Uni are connected to a group of teenagers elsewhere (in Southampton? who knows from the script?). At least the Old Codgers cooking a meal for each other are connected to the teenage stroppy crowd, but the group of Uni students are yet another programme, if you don't know TA.

  • Comment number 32.

    I'm not reading or reacting to other comments here, but to my experience of the first week. I've enjoyed it. I especially thought it was clever the way you used the wedding video to get us a snippit of Chris and Alice's wedding in Las Vegas before getting into the story proper. So far, I'm liking the way Alice's housemate, Chas, has gone up and down in my estimation - at the start, I thought he was trying to hit on Alice and didn't like that much, then I thought he was brilliant trying to cheer her up, and looking after her when she was drunk on the night out. And after his comments regarding "even I know you better than that", I'm back to thinking I don't quite trust him and that maybe Chris and Alice have to watch out for him. Good work for a character that I've only known for 30 minutes!

    I found the theme tune a bit of a shock first time I heard it - but it's grown on me quickly, and now I really enjoy it as a different but recognisable version of Barwick Green.

    Even if I'm in a minority here, for me this has been an excellent first week - keep up the good work!

  • Comment number 33.

    Of course you did...

  • Comment number 34.

    Only 2 episodes in and I'm hooked and wanting more....its linked enough that if you do listen to TA then you'll recognise some characters, but if not then its stand alone.
    I'm loving it, and the fact that its only going to be 26 episodes has me yearning for the next series before we're even on episode 3!

  • Comment number 35.

    Well I was about to listen on my iPhone/pod to Xtras but after so much negativity I won't bother. Like many the focus on misery and potentially another broken marriage before it's even begun and same old nasty adolescence - cannot be bothered!!

  • Comment number 36.

    too 'yoof' orientated am afraid. If the remit is to attract the younger generation you're on a hiding to nothing and if you want to write for the Z generation best to apply to 'Waterloo Road' - Heaven knows they could do with all the help they can get.

  • Comment number 37.

    Yes. I would like to tell the writer of this rubbish imposed on Radio 7 listeners to lead it straight back to Radio 4 where it may be appreciated. It certainly isn't on the new 4extra. Nor is desert island discs or old chat shows or more endless repeats of Just a minute. Why 'fix' something that isn't broken. RADIO 4 GO HOME.

  • Comment number 38.

    Um ... thank you Sevenfan. To be honest, I'd quite like Archers stuff to be in the Archers rather than elsewhere. It makes no sense to have what is now quite definitely mainstream plotting on a spin off. Also blowed if I can hear any of the much vaunted new material from 'silents' either ... unless of course they are remaining as silent on Ambridge Lite as they are on Ambridge Heavy.


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